Jenson Button carried Brawn GP to a 1-2 finish in the Australian Grand Prix which concluded under the safety car after a frantic final few laps.
The British driver, who only five weeks ago faced the possibility of being without a drive this year, led from pole position to clinch his second career victory in Melbourne ahead of teammate Rubens Barrichello – but Brawn GP were unable to dominate the race as many people had expected.
Button led the field through the first corner and appeared to have the legs on his rivals, but the deployment of the safety car on lap 19 bunched the field up and disrupted the teams’ race strategies.
In the closing stages Button was on the softer tyres and found himself coming under intense pressure from Sebastien Vettel and Robert Kubica, while his teammate Rubens Barrichello was closing in on all three after recovering from an incident at the start.
But when Vettel and Kubica collided with just two laps to go – the latter driver subsequently crashing his car as a result of the damage he sustained in the incident – Button was left free to cruise to his second career victory, albeit under safety car conditions.
Update: Vettel has been docked with 10 place grid penalty at next week’s Malaysian Grand Prix as a result of the clash .
Barrichello was promoted to second place gifting Brawn GP a 1-2 finish on their debut, while Jarno Trulli, and astonishingly, defending world champion Lewis Hamilton, vaulted up to third and fourth respectively.
Update: Hamilton has been promoted to third after Trulli was docked with a 25-second time penalty for overtaking Hamilton under the safety conditions.
“It always looks easier than it is,” Button said after the race. “The first few laps were great and I settled into a good pace, but when the safety car came out I struggled to get heat into the tyres. I was struggling with degradation and poor light. Being at the front should be easy but its not.”
“It’s been an amazing day. Some people may say that it was a pity that I finished under the safety car but I don’t care. And it’s been a traumatic few months for us so a massive thank you to the whole team.”
Button almost lost the lead of the race in the closing stages after a slow final pit stop.
“I made a mistake in my pitstop,” he explained. It was stuck in second gear when I came into the box and neutral didn’t work. I was just confused with Massa in front. It cost me five or six seconds but we were able to come out in front. I made it difficult for the team but we got there.”
Rubens Barrichello was delighted to finish in second place after a disastrous start to the race. The Brazilian was lucky to get off the start line at all as he struggled to select first gear and almost stalled.
He found himself out of place at the first corner and, attempting to make up ground, ran into the side of the Red Bull’s Mark Webber, who in turn bashed wheels with Nick Heidfeld. The incident collected McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen who was forced to retire as a result of the damage he sustained.
“The car was very strong,” Barrichello quipped afterwards. “I hit people from the side, in front, and it still stood up. It wasn’t an easy race but I never thought I could finish on the podium after the start I had.”
“I stalled the car and it went into neutral. I lost a lot of ground to other people. I was hit behind by the McLaren which put me sideways.”
Barrichello added: “I had a lot of mixed emotions today, but the result is really fantastic and I’m delighted to be here.”
Such was the pace of the new Brawn GP car that Barrichello was able to catch up to Nico Rosberg and Robert Kubica who were running in fourth and fifth in the early stages behind the Ferraris of Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen.
Barrichello was running a slightly heavier fuel load than his immediate rivals leapfrogged Massa, Rosberg and Kubica at the first round of pit stops but was caught out by the safety car which was deployed on lap 19 after Kazuki Nakajima dropped his Williams into the barrier at Turn 4.
Nico Rosberg and the Ferraris lost out to the safety car while Toyota’s Jarno Trulli was a notable beneficiary.
The Italian started in the pit lane due to Toyota being excluded from qualifying for a technical infringement, but a heavy fuel load allied to the raw pace of the TF109 saw him climb to sixth place in the closing stages, before being gifted third as a result of the collision between Vettel and Kubica.
McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton had a low key race up untill the final few laps. The Defending world champion started from the back of the grid after taking a grid penalty for changing his gearbox unit. He quickly made up ground and was running as high as tenth, but his light fuel load compromised his race strategy.
Some impressive passes in the closing stages, tallied to other drivers’ mistakes and reliability problems – most notably that of t – saw the Briton claim a position he never thought was possible on Saturday.
“We did the best just we could,” he told the BBC afterwards. “We did the best job we could – an incredible job by the team throughout the weekend. We kept our spirits up even though we were off the pace. I’m very happy and proud.”
But he conceded that McLaren still have a lot of work to do before they can challenge at the front of the grid.
“We haven’t really improved the car. The car is what it is. We’ve got a good programme going on back at the factory and we need to score points and catch people up.”
It was a frustrating day for another world champion, Kimi Raikkonen. Using his KERS device to devastating effect the Finn made a lightening start and vaulted up to fourth place from ninth. But contact with Rubens Barrichello damaged his Ferrari and an early pitstop to counter problems with the super soft tyres saw him drop down the grid after the safety car.
Raikkonen’s race came to an end on lap 44 when the Ferrari driver dropped his F60 into the wall. He limped home to sixteenth place, while teammate Felipe Massa, who showed strong pace throughout the race, retired ten laps earlier with a mechanical problem.
Timo Glock finished fifth putting smiles on the faces of the Toyota mechanics after their exclusion from qualifying yesterday, while Fernando Alonso did has he promised and clawed his way into the points after starting twelfth.
Nico Rosberg was forced to settle for seventh at the chequered flag ahead of Sebastien Buemi in eighth.